Brossard (Mascall), on Graffyng Family Trees

C16th Graffyng (grafting) technique, from Brossard (Mascall) Arte and Maner… (1575)

Of divers kinders of graffes: It is very true that one may set a tree which shal beare divers sorts of fruite at once, if he be graffed with divers kinde of graffes, as the black, whyte and greene cherry togythers, and also Apples of other trees, as Apples and Peares togythers, and in the scntchion {section?*} (ye may graffe) lykewise of divers byndes {kyndes?} also, as on Peares, Abricotes, and Plums togyther, and of others also.

David Brossard (trans. Leonard Mascall), A Booke of the Arte and Maner, Howe to Plant and Graffe all Sortes of Trees (1575)

Quite a confusing paragraph here from Leonard Mascall, translating an earlier French work by David Brossard (with one or two possible printer’s typos in the mix to add to the oddness). But the general gist is clear: the concept of the ‘family‘ fruit tree – grafting multiple varieties onto a single stock tree – has been around since at least the sixteenth century and, I would suspect, for as long as the art of grafting has been practised. After all, once you knew how to graft one variety, why wouldn’t you experiment with more than one?

It might seem odd to modern eyes to attempt to graft apples and pears onto the same stock, because we now know that they’re actually from two closely-related – both members of the Rosaceae family – but still distinct genera: Malus and Pyrus. But according to the classification systems of the day, apples were actually considered to be a sub-species of the Pyrus family. Plus, it’s likely that the grafters of the day used crab apple or wild pear stocks to graft both fruits. And those wild stocks, lacking the centuries of deliberate breeding that have produced modern rootstocks, may well have been closer in compatibility to both apples and pears.


*(Edit since posting) A couple of paragraphs down, this word appears again, as “scutcheon, or shield”, in reference to bud-grafting. So the ‘n’ is an inverted ‘u’ character – definitely a type-setting error.

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